Rau and Bou: The Duke
The Duchess of Marridon was returned to her quarters late in the evening after a full day of Frewyn's fine pastimes and exceptional conventions. She prepared herself for a short sleep as she was to begin the return journey to the Triumvirate in the morning but when her attendants left her to dress for the short slumber, the Duchess found it difficult to persuade herself to sleep for the general animation of the day. She felt it had been more stimulation than he had been afforded in the past month and would be sorry to leave it. She donned her laced sleeping gown and sat at the vanity in the parlour brushing out the curls at the end of her long hair. She looked back at her reflection in the mirror before her and decided that the cold of the keep was altogether too disagreeable for sleeping, warranting a call for tea and the commander instead.
The commander was in the commons attending to a certain spider that had found its way into the bedchamber when she received the summons to attend the Duchess in the royal quarter. She was about to leave and see to the Duchess' needs but the Den Asaan barred her path, demanding that she dispose of the eyesore, forcing her to remember her first duty as Ataas Traala to see to his comforts and her talent of spider-killing was considered a part her responsibility to him. The commander laughed and took the spider from the stone wall, taunting the giant by drawing near to him with it. He roared at her to remove it from the commons and not to mock him further but the mirth was already had at his expense and the commander snickered out of their residence, releasing the spider into the hallway with secret hopes that it would find its way back in before long.
When she reached the Duchess' chamber, before she could knock she was ushered in my Foote who was standing just beyond the door awaiting her arrival. The manservant lead her into the parlour where she was announced, even though there was only the Duchess present, and she was delighted to find the Duchess sitting on the divan in the corner of the room beside a silver chart adorned with sachets of exotic teas and plates of small cakes.
"I would have invited your mate but I feared that if I did, he would find the tea things too small and the subject of conversation too dull," the Duchess said, pouring a cup of tea. She motioned for the commander to sit beside her and when she did, she gave her a cup and saucer and asked her to choose tea that suited her tastes.
The commander chose a sachet filled with dried licorice and the stately woman graciously placed the sachet into her cup and poured hot water over it. "I rather thought you would be asleep at this hour," said the commander, enjoying the wafting scent of the licorice as it bloomed from the cup.
"There's nothing I enjoy so much as good company and Frewyn, it seems, has a plethora of it. Now I know why you have your sleeping troubles. Too many exciting things going on about this keep," she said in a feigned accusatory tone. "So much gaiety in a castle is unlawful. The Chambers in Marridon isn't half as exciting and no one should be permitted to be having more enjoyment than I."
"Perhaps you could find yourself a pony," the commander said, smirking into her cup. "Isn't that what those of royal consequence do when bored, buy ponies?"
"Or husbands," the Duchess laughed.
"I wasn't aware the two were mutually exclusive."
"Not usually, only I fear one you may ride and the other may ride you."
The Duchess winked and the commander laughed as she went to sip her tea, nearly spilling the contents of her cup onto the saucer beneath it.
The commander observed the elegance in the woman before her and marked that her contrive and haughty air had done so well as to mask her wisdom and wryness that it seemed unfair for her to be unable to use it within the confines of her own kingdom. She watched the Duchess sip her tea with grace in movement and carefulness in poise, and she began to wonder why she would be alone when she was so desperate for fellowship. "May I ask," the commander said, "what the Duke of Marridon was like?"
"Oh, monstrous," the Duchess sighed with a wave of her hand. "Marriages among the nobles in Marridon are all arranged since infancy, you know, done to keep the commoners from sullying the royal bloodline. How ridiculous a notion. There have been few who would be so bold as to give up their fortunes for romance but a destitute lord hardly lasts in Marridon." The Duchess sighed for the thought of romance being such a rarity among the lords and ladies of the Chambers and her gaze fell to her reflection within her cup as she recalled the answer to the commander's question. "I was sixteen when we were married. I hardly knew anything about the Duke. We had met once or twice at one of my father's evening parties and only had a few acquaintances between us. I knew nothing of either prudence or romance at such a young age. I knew drawing, music, language, history, science, mathematics, literature, and many other things that have little to do with romance or leadership. I was very accomplish and therefore a very desirable candidate for marriage. My mother, the Marquise Everratte, signed the contract with the Duke to secure our bond without my knowing." The Duchess simpered for the absurdity of such a match and shook her head to think of what she would have preferred to be doing rather than preparing for matrimony at the time. "I was busy enjoying a game of cards with my friends when she told me I was to leave our house and live with the Duke. The following day, I was married," she said with a shrug. The Duchess sipped her tea and a deviant grin suddenly graced her features. "The following night, however . . ." she smirked.
"Was he at least tolerable?" the commander archly asked.
The Duchess laid her hand to her breast. "Upon my word, he was," she professed. "It was the only reason I bore his negligence and affairs and utter disinterest in me. In time, I learned to enjoy the solitude rather than be made to bear his insipid and remiss company. I took solace and great enjoyment in my many handmaidens and the visits of friends. I was immensely thankful when the war came round. The Duke was called for duty, although he couldn't tell a sword from an axe if you had asked him, and he died alongside the king as a hero, bequeathing me his fortune and his estate. I had little time to enjoy my blessed freedom and financial success. The three kings and much of the nobility of Belinas and Sisterna, the two smaller kingdoms, had died also and there was only the Duchess of Marridon left to tend to three broken lands." The Duchess gave a flourish with her hand to mockingly present herself.
Although her Grace pretended that her uniting of the three kingdom was a mere trifle, the commander had heard much of the amalgamation that formed the Triumvirate and she admired the woman all the more for believing herself to be less of a savior to three destitute kingdoms than she was in actuality. "Have your eyes never spied something in the neighboring kingdoms that you would wish to take home?" the commander's suggestively said.
"Many things, Mrs. Giant," the Duchess confessed, "too many to choose only one. Marrying once was enough to know I am not interested in matrimony, even if only in ceremony and for the sake of an alliance. I cannot in good conscience enforce the institution upon those of my consequence or position and it was forced upon me"
"What will happen once you are decrepit and are asked to step down?"
The Duchess almost choked on her tea for the laughter and waved her hand at the commander for making her laugh while her mouth was otherwise engaged. "I do not know. However, no matter what scheme the Chamber can design for my succession I shall laugh at it wholeheartedly in my supposed decrepit state until my death," she said, pouring more hot water for herself. She lifted the teapot to offer more to the commander and she obliged her. "And you, commander? Any suitors other than that magnificent beast in your bed?"
"I should say not," the commander replied with a scoff. "I was too busy being covered in mud to be of any use to a man. There was one who asked for my hand but it was merely for the connection of my father's farmstead with his merchantry, not for the sacred and illusive bond of love. And then there was the king."
The Duchess' eyes flared open at such a scandalous statement and she immediately shifted nearer to the commander. "Such an imprudent match," she exclaimed. "Tell me, Mrs. Giant. I must have my part in the history."
"There really isn't much to tell, I'm afraid," the commander said, grimacing in remorse for the story's supposed uninteresting nature. "The king was the first soldier I met when I joined the ranks. He was an infantryman at the time. Both of us where made captains within the following months and we were stationed in Amene together. One night, we received reports that a Galleisian battalion was on its way to our position. We had scarcely any men left between us and we didn't believe we would live for very much longer. He asked me if we could spend our last evening in his tent. I foolishly agreed. He developed what he believed to be genuine sentiment though he never said anything to be about it. I always maintained my suspicions."
The Duchess wished to ask on the matter of the king's performance but she judged that by the commander's omission of the event and the king's lack of experience in securing a queen was confirmation enough of his failure in the area. "And the battle?" she asked after a hurried sip of tea.
"The Galleisian battalion contracted disease from the water they drank from the pools in the mountains. When they arrived, most of them were so ill they could barely fight and we won," the commander simpered. "Alasdair was reassigned to Hallanys and I was made to defend our border. A few days later, I found a certain giant sitting within a holding cell in the armoury. He stayed with me through the remainder of the war and was responsible for much of our success. When the war was over, he was to go home but had asked that I accompany him. I thought the invitation strange yet I accepted it. I had grown accustomed to his company. He didn't really give me a choice to refuse him. He simply assumed I should wish to be with him for the rest of my commander's life."
"He made it easy for you. You should thank him," the Duchess laughed.
"I have already done so twice this evening," the commander said with a knowing glance. "Fortunately, Alasdair's feelings subsided enough to invite his enormous rival to live in the keep. I wish the story were infinitely more exciting than all that. I could embellish it a bit. I could add a duel or two, a king and a giant fighting for their one true love. However, I fear that battle would be rather short and the king would end up rather dead."
The Duchess placed her tea down on the trey beside her and paused to swallow before she succumbed to laughter. "Pray, Mrs. Giant," she sighed, "what will I ever do without your company?"
"I daresay you shall never manage. I already have two men here who would die without my merry company. Do not make me responsible for you happiness. I shall fail you miserably."
The Duchess agreed she would not hold her accountable for the whole of her happiness but merely only for it in part while they remained in each other's cheerful company throughout the remainder of the night.